Lombard Romanesque

The Lombard Romanesque developed between the last decades of the eleventh century and the twelfth century in a wider area of the current Lombardy region, including Emilia and a part of Piedmont, and influenced a large part of Italy, until ‘ Umbria, the Marches, in the north of England, and partly also Apulia and Sardinia.

Lombardy was the first Italian area to receive the artistic innovations from the over the Alps, thanks to the now age-old movement of Lombard artists in Germany and vice versa, but above all to export advanced construction techniques such as stone vaults and stylistic features such as hanging arches and pilasters (not by chance called in France bandes lombardes).


One of the first churches to arrive, with significant elements of the novelties of the Romanesque style is the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Lomello, built between 1025 and 1050, with strong references to the Ottonian architecture : it was one of the first churches in Italy that was covered in the side aisles by cross vaults, instead of the traditional beams. Inside, instead of the Basilic columns, there are pillars with two semi-columns placed side by side. The semi-columns hold the dividing arches, while the pillars extend into pilastersup to the ceiling shutters, where there are some original brick arches, which cross the central nave. The particular shape of the extensions of the pillars and of the semi-columns makes the tax blocks (instead of the capitals) create a sort of cruciform decoration on the walls.

Also of Germanic influence is the small church of San Pietro al Monte di Civate, where there are two opposite apses, according to Carolingian models.

In the Como area, North European models were resumed, as shown by the Basilica of Sant’Abbondio, with five aisles covered with wooden beams, where there is a double bell tower in the style of the German Westwerks. Other peculiarities are the early presence of blind arches and pilasters in the external walls, made of local stone instead of the typical brick used in Milan and Pavia.

Between the end of the XI and the beginning of the XII century, in an already mature Romanic style, the basilica of Sant’Ambrogio was rebuilt in Milan, endowed with ribbed cross vaults and a very rational design, with a perfect correspondence between the drawing in plan and elements in elevation. In practice each arch of the vaults rests on a semi-pillar or a proper semicolumn which are then grouped into the beam pillar, whose horizontal section is therefore not random, but closely linked to what it supports. The façade (called a hut) has two loggiasoverlapped, the lower one has three equal arches and rejoins with the internal perimeter of the portico, the upper one has five arches that climb in height following the profile of the slopes. It also features hanging arches, ie rows of small round arches that “embroider” the string course and sloping frames. The quadriportico instead was traced on the previous paleochristian structure, although it had now changed its function: no longer a place to contain the catechumens, but seat of religious or civil meetings and assemblies.

The stylistic isolation of Sant’Ambrogio di Milano should not have been as pronounced as today compared to the era of reconstruction, when there were other monuments that have been lost or heavily damaged over the centuries, such as the cathedrals of Pavia, Novara and Vercelli. However, there are still re-echoes of the model of Sant’Ambrogio in the church of Santi Celso e Nazaro, also in Milan, or in extra-urban churches such as the church of San Sigismondo in Rivolta d’Adda.

The roundabout of San Tomè, unanimously considered a monument of the mature Romanesque , located in the province of Bergamo is distinguished by its circular plan, for the harmony of the superimposed cylindrical volumes, for the originality of the internal structure divided into paths delimited by columns and capitals of particular beauty and artistic value.

The matroneo superimposed on the main body is also characterized by columns above those of the lower body, culminating with capitals carved with different motifs that reproduce Lombard ornaments, biblical episodes and zoomorphic figures. The lantern closes the structure making an effect of great charm and elegant slenderness.

Other examples of Lombard Romanesque churches with a circular plan are the Old Cathedral of Brescia and the Rotonda di San Lorenzo in Mantua.

Other developments are witnessed, for example, by the Basilica of San Michele Maggiore in Pavia, with the façade consisting of a single large pentagonal profile with two sloping roofs, divided by beamed buttresses, and, in the upper part, decorated by two symmetrical galleries of small arches on columns, which follow the profile of the roof; the strong upward development is also emphasized by the arrangement of the windows, concentrated in the central area. The extraordinary decoration with carved bands that cross the entire façade horizontally is now seriously compromised by the deterioration of the sandstone in which they were sculpted.

The model of San Michele was also taken up in the churches of Pavia in San Teodoro and San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro (consecrated in 1132), and was developed in the cathedral of Parma (late 12th-early 13th century).

Most of the Roman cities along the Via Emilia in this period were endowed with monumental cathedrals, among which the medieval structure still retains the cathedral of Parma, the cathedral of Modena and Fidenza, while the cathedral of Reggio Emilia came heavily transformed in the following centuries.

The Modena Cathedral is the testimony that came to us in a more coherently unitary manner. A plaque walled on the outside of the main apse shows the date of foundation May 23, 1099 and also indicates the name of the architect, the magister Lanfranco, of Lombard origin (perhaps Como), although recent studies hypothesise its origin Veronese. It was built in a few decades, so it does not have significant gothic insertions. With three naves without a transept and three apses, it was formerly covered with wooden trusses, which were replaced with cross-vault vaults only during the 15th century.. The walls of the central nave rest on pillars alternating with columns and have a triforium with three-light windows that simulate a fake matroneo and a cleristorio where the windows open. On the outside, the articulation of the space reflects the internal one, with a continuous series of loggias at the height of “matroneo”, which surround the cathedral all around, enclosed by blind arches. The sloping façade reflects the internal shape of the naves, and is divided into three large pilasters while the center is dominated by the portal with a protiroon two floors (the rose window and lateral portals are later). Of extraordinary value and importance is the sculptural kit composed of the famous reliefs of Wiligelmus and his followers.

The Parma cathedral was started at the end of the 12th century and finished during the 13th century, with the bell tower and the porch on the façade. The cathedral has a very complex plant, especially in the apse area and in the large transept, also crowned with apses on both sides. Also here as in Modena and in particular as in Pavia, the façade is enlivened by hanging loggia, both oblique, under the sloping, and in a double horizontal order, which create a rhythmic chiaroscuro effect together with the delicate polychrome due to the use of different stones: sandstone, gray stone and pink marble of Verona. Parma is famous for the sculptural works of Benedetto Antelami. The construction of the cathedrals of Piacenza, Parma, Reggio, Modena, Ferrara sanctions the affirmation of the municipal age in which the nascent Municipality represents the ideal continuity with the glorious Roman municipium. The Romanesque architectural model reconciles the layout of the Roman basilica with the Burgundian church structure.

Near by dating and style is the cathedral of Piacenza, built on the initiative of the City after the conquest of autonomy (1126). The sculptor Niccolò worked in Piacenza.

Of particular interest are the abbey of Nonantola, the cathedral of Fidenza and the complex of Santo Stefano in Bologna.

Other zones of influence
A direct succession of the style of the cathedral of Modena is the Basilica of San Zeno in Verona, where almost all the architectural elements are mentioned, from the three-faceted triumphal facade to the gallery of loggias (although here interpreted with double columns), to the large sculptural panels next to the portal, to the internal articulation. The rest of the Veneto was dominated by Byzantine influences that filtered from Venice, but a citation of Lombardian ways can be found in the two orders of loggias along the apse area of the Murano Cathedral.

In Piedmont the Lombard influences were added to those of the French, Provencal Romanesque, as in the Sacra di San Michele or in the church of Saints Pietro and Orso in Aosta. In Liguria the Lombard stylistic language was further filtered and mixed with Pisan and Byzantine influences, as in the Ventimiglia cathedral or in the Genoese churches of Santa Maria di Castello, San Donato, Santa Maria delle Vigne and San Giovanni di Pré, including the original sculptural outfits.

Also in Tuscany and in Umbria some churches show Lombard influences, although combined with more classical elements derived from surviving ancient remains. This is the case of the abbey of Sant’Antimo, of the basilica of Santa Maria Infraportas in Foligno, of the churches of San Salvatore in Terni or of Santa Maria Maggiore in Assisi, of the Cathedral of Todi.

In the Marche region, the models offered by Emilian architecture are reworked with originality and combined with Byzantine elements. For example, the church of Santa Maria di Portonovo near Ancona (mid-eleventh century) or the Cathedral of San Ciriaco (late eleventh century – 1189), have a Greek cross plan with a dome at the intersection of the arms and a protiro in facade that frames a strongly splayed portal.

Also in northern Lazio the Lombard influences were filtered from Umbria and were fertilized with the unbroken classical tradition: in Montefiascone with the church of San Flaviano (early XII century), in Tarquinia with church of Santa Maria in Castello (started in 1121), in Viterbo with more basilicas (Santa Maria Nuova, San Francesco a Vetralla, the cathedral, San Sisto, San Giovanni in Zoccoli).

In Sardinia in the tenth and eleventh centuries there is a “particular attitude” in front of the two new Lombard and Tuscan currents, which are often merged producing unprecedented results. As in the case of the church of San Nicola di Trullas (before 1115) in Semestene (SS), the palatine chapel of Santa Maria del Regno (1107) in Ardara or the San Nicola di Silanis (before 1122) of Sedini (SS) and the Basilica of San Simplicio in Olbia (11th-12th century) just to name a few. The Church of San Pietro di Zuri (Ghilarza dates back to later times)) on the façade of which appears an epigraph that recalls the date of consecration, 1291, and the master who executed the works Anselmo da Como . The same author has been attributed the interventions on the façade of the church of San Pietro Extramuros (XI – resumed in the XIII) in Bosa (OR) where on the ridge of the façade there is a shrine with the outbuilding columns.

The Masters of Como
Among the early masters of the Lombard Romanesque there are a number of anonymous masters who initially worked in the Como area (and for this reason said masters of Como. These sculptors moved a lot and their work is documented on all the Pre-Alps, in the Plain Padana, in the Canton of Ticino and some of them went to work in Germany, Denmark and Sweden.

Among the best works of this school are the external decoration of the Basilica of Sant’Abbondio in Como, or the choir of the Basilica of San Fedele, also in Como, with zoomorphic figures, monsters, griffins, etc.

In these representations human figures are rare and characterized by a squat and unrealistic appearance. Much more remarkable is their skill in depicting animal figures and complex plant intertwining, perhaps due to the fact that they can rely on patterns of fabrics and other oriental objects. The relief is flat and stylized, and there is ample recourse to the drill to create a distinct detachment with the background, of fixed depth, to give chiaroscuro effects.

Wiligelmo is the master of the sculptures of the façade of the cathedral of Modena, whose name is handed down by a slab placed on the dome itself, where grateful citizens carved a sentence in praise of the master.

For Modena he carved various reliefs between the end of the XI and the beginning of the XII century, among which the most famous are the four large panels with the Stories of the Genesis (Creation, Sin of the progenitors, Killing of Abel, Punishment of Cain and the Noah’s Ark), which mark the resumption of monumental sculpture in Italy. The figurative complex represents an allegory of human salvation and reconciliation with God.

Wiligelmo is famous for his immediate language, clearly intelligible by several layers of the population. He also developed a style with considerable capacity in the rendering of volumes, in narrative description, in the attention to the rendering of expressions and details.

The followers of Wiligelmo
Also in Modena there were numerous stonemasons, such as the Master of Stories of San Geminiano (active around 1130, with great inventiveness, but less expressive than Wiligelmus), the Master of Arthur (more decorative and less dramatic) and the Master of Metopes. This last anonymous artist, active in the first quarter of the twelfth century, carved a unicum with the imaginative representations of the most remote peoples of the earth who still await the Christian message; important is the appearance in his style of meticulous and refined elements, derived from the Burgundian sculpture, from the carvings of ivories and from the goldsmith’s art.

The sculptor known by the name of Niccolò, a pupil or otherwise a connoisseur of Wiligelmus, is the first master of whom we know a corpus of works signed, five, which allow him to reconstruct his movements through northern Italy.

The first work signed by Nicolaus is from 1122 and consists of the right portal of the façade of the cathedral of Piacenza, where the Stories of Christ on the architrave are depicted, characterized by an effectively narrative style, but by a rather flattened relief, which is balanced by a greater refinement in the details and an almost “pictorial” preciousness. This style had a large following in Piacenza, as in the anonymous artists of the panels of the Paratici, in the central aisle, which represent the corporations of the arts and crafts that had financed the construction of the cathedral.

The second testimony of Nicolaus is found in the sacred of San Michele, in Val di Susa, in Piedmont, where he probably worked between 1120 and 1130. Here is the Zodiac Gate, with the jambs decorated with reliefs of the zodiacal signs, similar to those of the fantastic peoples in the Porta dei Principi of Modena, there are influences of the linearism of the sculptural school of Toulouse.

In 1135 Niccolò was in Ferrara to work again at a porch, where for the first time the tympanum was carved, as was done for a couple of decades in France, then we find it in 1138 in the construction site of the Basilica of San Zeno in Verona, still working at a polychrome tympanum, and finally in 1139 we find the last of his works in the cathedral of Verona : a Madonna in the Throne, an ‘ Annunciation and an’ Adoration of the Magi always in the portal. Niccolò introduces elements derived from the Aquitania and from the North of Spain.

The sampling masters
The last phase of the decoration of the Modena Cathedral was carried out by the so-called Masters of the Province, as they originated in Campione d’Italia, among which the activity of Anselmo da Campione stands out (active around 1165). They sculpted the pier in the cathedral and carved out the large rose window on the facade.

They also worked in the other major construction sites in the region.

Benedetto Antelami
Benedetto Antelami worked on the monumental complex of the cathedral of Parma at least since 1178, as shown in the slab of the Deposition from a dismembered jetty. His activity lies in the confinement between Romanesque and Gothic art, both for dating and for style. He probably had a chance to visit the Provencal shipyards, perhaps even those of the Île-de-France. In the famous Deposition he portrayed the moment in which the body of Christ is lowered by the cross, with various elements taken from the canonical iconography of the Crucifixion (the Roman soldiers dressed in Christ, the sun and the moon, the personification of Ecclesiaand of the Synagogue, etc.) and of the Resurrection (the three Marys). Particularly refined is the execution and also the result in the modeling of human bodies is less stocky than the figures of Wiligelmo. Compared to the Modenese master, on the other hand, the dynamics of the scene are lower, with figures standing in expressive poses. The impression of spatiality given by the two superimposed planes on which the soldiers who throw lots of clothes are placed is the first example of this kind in Italy.

In the same period he also sculpted the episcopal chair, with powerful, highly plastic figures with remarkable expressiveness.

In 1180 – 1190 it was with the workshop in Fidenza where he decorated the facade of the cathedral with various reliefs, among which stand out the all-round statues of the two Prophets in niches next to the central portal: the recovery of the all-round sculpture (although in this if the architectural location does not allow the viewer to appreciate more points of view), it has no precedents since the late-ancient statuary.

His masterpiece is the baptistery of Parma (from 1196), perhaps influenced by the Pisan one, where the sculptures create a single whole both inside and outside, with a cycle that can be schematized in the treatment of human life and its redemption.

In Lombardy there are splendid testimonies of Romanesque frescoes in Civate (Lecco), as in the church of S.Calocero and in S. Pietro al Monte, the latter documented in most of the bibliography on Romanesque painting. Another remarkable cycle of frescoes of this era is found in S. Martino in Carugo (Como).

An interesting example of liberation from the dominant styles of Byzantine art is the paintings still existing in the Alto Adige area.

For example, in the crypt of the church of Montemaria in Burgusio (about 1160), a Christ in majesty with cherubs and Saints Peter and Paul recalls the results of the Ottonian miniature.

More original are the fragmentary frescoes of the church of San Jacopo in Termeno on the Strada del Vino, where there is a scene with a combat of monstrous figures (late 12th century) characterized by a strong sense of movement and a loose and elegant trait.

In the cycle of the Castle of Appiano (late 12th century) there are elongated figures that seem to anticipate the courtly scenes of the Gothic period. Important is also the naturalistic vein of these paintings, which deviates more from the Byzantine models, as in the fresco with the Sacrifice of Isaac (church of San Jacopo di Grissiano, fraction of Tesimo, beginning of the XIII century) where along the profile of a arch is painted a donkey loaded with bundles of wood that struggles to climb, against the backdrop of the snow-capped Dolomite peaks.

Source from Wikipedia